“Love & Gelato” Book Review

 

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to go to Italy. It was part of a summer study abroad program. I’d been prepping myself for a long time, having taken classes on Italian language, culture and literature. All I had to do was fill out a few forms, get a passport, catch a flight to Arezzo and then I’d embark on a two-week adventure in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Sounds fun, right? Well, it would have been if I’d actually gone.

Yep. Cold feet got the best of me, among other concerns I had at the time. I threw away my chance and have been kicking myself ever since. It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life. So when I picked up this book, I hoped that it would in some way quench my severe thirst for all things Italy. Normally I’m not into lovey-dovey romances but I was willing to give Jenna Evans Welch’s debut novel a shot.

The story centers around sixteen-year-old Lina (which is short for Carolina but I’ve been mentally pronouncing it as Lee-nah because Line-ah sounds weird) and her journey to Italy in the wake of her mother’s death. She wants to keep her mother’s dying wish to spend the summer with her long-lost father, Harold, but at the same time, she’d rather be back at home. But when she gets there, she receives a journal her mother had kept while she’d been living in Italy. Soon enough Lina finds herself tracing her mother’s footsteps through the city of Tuscany, uncovering a mystery, falling in love, and eating lots of gelato along the way.

“Love & Gelato” has the appeal of a Lifetime movie- cute, entertaining, and all around decent. While not the most interesting in terms of personality, the character of Lina has enough agency and likability to keep me engaged with her story. She’s hurting, but it doesn’t stop her from getting out and exploring her surroundings. She feels like a typical teenage girl, but she isn’t annoying or completely idiotic. I liked the relationships she had with the other characters- like the awkward interactions between her and Harold, the love she had for her mother and her budding infatuation with Ren.

The other characters are hit and miss. Her long-distance friend, Addie, did get on my nerves a bit. She wasn’t a bad person by any means, but her dialogue did have a Bubbly-Blonde-OMG-Valley-Girl vibe that I just found obnoxious whenever she popped up. Harold and his assistant Sonia were good, as was Ren, Lina’s love interest. The group of friends Ren introduces Lina to could’ve easily been clumped together into a single being. Their non-existent personalities made it difficult for me to tell them apart, even with their names being referenced multiple times. Also, without spoiling it, there’s an adult male character that shows up toward the end of the novel that came off as a cartoon character. There’s a moment where he and Lina are having a heated discussion, and his dialogue was extremely corny, borderline cringy to be honest. I swear it was like he’d transformed into a twirling-mustache villain.

One that note, the writing style feels awkward at times. It’s quite obvious that this is a first novel. The story’s execution is a little clunky. Some sentences are oddly written, the pacing does get a tad too slow at times, and the dialogue sounds off. Something about the way the dialogue was written felt forced. To me, it made characters not feel one-hundred percent real. They felt like fictional characters. Again, not bad characters, but fictional nonetheless.

The true romance of the novel lies in Welch’s portrayal of Italy. The way she describes the fountains, the plazas, the architecture, and the bakeries is so loving and enchanting. She really does paint a beautifully mystical portrait of Italy. It makes me kick myself even harder for not going there when I had the chance. The actual love story of the book is fine. It’s cute. I thought it would’ve been better if it ended platonically, but that’s just my personal taste. (I’m unbearably picky when it comes to what I perceive as being “romantic”.)

If you’re looking for a sweet and simple read this summer, then “Love & Gelato” will suite you just fine. It’s nothing spectacular. It’s nothing disastrous. It has cheesy moments for sure, but there’s enough substance to keep the pages turning. What else can I say? It’s a decent debut from Jenna Evans Welch!

Cosmic Grade: C+

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